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Frost Delays - What Every Golfer Should Know

By George Waters

| Feb 17, 2023 | Liberty Corner, N.J.

Walking or driving over frost-covered grass can cause long-lasting damage. (USGA/Chris Keane)

How often your morning is affected by frost delays depends not just on the weather, but a variety of factors. Here’s what every golfer should know about frost:

Crunchy grass is vulnerable to damage

Golf course turf is normally resilient to traffic, but when ice crystals form inside the plants, they become brittle. Walking or driving over frost-covered grass can rupture plant cells, leading to dead turf, or the plants may be weakened without immediately showing the effects. It can take grass more than a month to recover from this damage.

Location is everything

You look out the kitchen window and see no signs of frost, only to find a frost delay when you get to the course. Know that frost can linger in colder microclimates long after other areas have thawed. North-facing slopes, low-lying areas and areas sheltered from the wind are especially likely to remain covered with frost. When in doubt, call the golf shop to check on course conditions before leaving home.

Closely mown turf is at high risk

Frost damage can occur throughout the course, but it poses the greatest risk to closely mown turf. Putting greens are particularly vulnerable because they experience the most concentrated traffic. A foursome typically takes 300 steps or more per green; with frost present, each step could cause serious damage.

Looks can be deceiving

No signs of frost on the first tee doesn’t mean an immediate “all clear” sign. If frost remains in unavoidable early in the round, the course must remain closed. Also remember that once the frost is totally clear, the maintenance staff will still need time to catch up on course preparation before play can begin.

More light goes a long way

Shade extends frost delays by preventing sunlight from melting the frost. Pruning or removing trees that shade primary playing surfaces can improve the course’s overall health and reduce the duration of frost delays. This is especially true on the first few holes, where the shade from a handful of trees can keep an entire course closed.


This content was first published in Golf Journal, a quarterly print and monthly digital publication exclusively for USGA Members. To be among the first to receive Golf Journal and to learn how you can help make golf more open for all, become a USGA Member today.